The debut writers of novel Lote and the biographical work A Ghost in the Throat have been announced as the winners of the 2021 James Tait Black Prizes.
Shola von Reinhold and Doireann Ni Ghriofa are the latest to win the UK’s longest-running literary awards, given annually by the University of Edinburgh.
Their £10,000 prizes were announced by author and broadcaster Sally Magnusson at a pre-recorded event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival – its new home at the university’s Edinburgh College of Art.
Lote author von Reinhold’s winning fiction follows the narrator Mathilda’s fixation with the forgotten black Scottish modernist poet Hermia Druitt, a bohemian socialite of the 1920s.
Fiction judge Dr Benjamin Bateman called Lote “an imaginative tour de force that combines a gripping detective plot with a thoughtful meditation on the historical neglect of black, queer and women artists”.
Speaking about their win, von Reinhold said: “Not to be too dramatique, but my head is still spinning too much to make any kind of concise statement.
“Right now, I can’t stop thinking of Hermia Druitt, who was alive a century ago when this prize was conceived, encountering many of the modernist winners and shortlistees but herself a black, Afro-Scottish writer, unlikely to have been shortlisted for any such thing – so there’s a strange joint sense of poetic mourning and justice for her and what she represents in the book.
“I am, of course, also delighted and deeply thankful to the student and faculty judges for choosing it.”
Award-winning poet and essayist Ni Ghriofa’s winning book, A Ghost in the Throat, is part memoir and part exploration of the life of 18th-century poet Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill.
Biography judge Dr Simon Cooke called it “a work of great and searching depth and generosity, as involving as it is luminous, that weaves poetry, memoir, biography and translation into a powerful celebration of female texts, and a profound exploration of the way the voice and life of one poet echoes in the life and voice of another”.
Ni Ghriofa said: “It’s such a deep joy to be awarded this prize. In truth, I can barely believe it.
“From the very beginning, as I set out in pursuit of a ghost, this book often surprised me, and it continues to do so.
“I’m very grateful to the judges, to my agent Alba Ziegler-Bailey, and to the wonderful Tramp Press.”
The event can be viewed online at https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/celebrating-the-shortlists-of-the-james-tait-black-prizes.